Acts, chapter 25 is the text for today.
As soon as Festus took over rule of the province, he wanted to sort out the cases that Felix had left him. Paul’s case was one of these leftovers, and the Jewish leaders appeared before him to present the charges against Paul. These leaders asked for a change of venue for his trial, and they were planning to ambush him on the way to Jerusalem. Festus did not grant their request, but told them to come to Caesarea where Paul was being held and make their case against him. He would hear the case and at that time determine if Paul had done anything wrong. Paul had two key things going against him in this situation – there was a change in Roman leadership and a vigilante group of Jewish leaders were trying to kill him. This might discourage most of us, but Paul was confident that God was in control, and He had given him a mission to fulfill. The church leaders were determined to get Paul convicted, or at least get him transferred so they could attack him, but God had him in protective custody with the circumstances surrounding him, and for the time being, this was a safe place for him. We can trust God in every situation, and know He has our best interests in mind. He is watching out for us, and when hard times come, there is usually a lesson for us to learn from it. When we see Him at work in our lives, it increases our faith in Him, and shows others that He is actively involved in our lives.
When everyone arrived back at Caesarea, Festus convened the court and had Paul brought before him. The Jews that were there from Jerusalem brought many serious charges against him, but had no actual proof that he had done anything wrong. Paul, in his defense, stated that he was innocent, but if they could find him guilty of something deserving death, he was ready to take his rightful punishment. He then restated that the charges were false and he should not be handed over to them. He appealed to Caesar and the Imperial court for his trial. Festus agreed, and declared that this matter should now go to Caesar. Paul was willing to take responsibility for anything he might have done wrong, but he knew that he was innocent. Festus knew that there was no substance to the charges against him, but would not call for his acquittal. Festus was too concerned about doing a favor for the Jewish leaders, and was trying work all sides of this situation. Paul took it out of Festus’ hands by asking to go to Caesar. He knew who was in charge of his destiny, and it was not this local governor. God had ordained Paul to testify to the Romans, and he was on track to do this, despite all the circumstances that seemed to derail this mission. Paul relied on his faith, courage, integrity and shrewdness to help him cope with this situation, and the Holy Spirit was with him every step of the way. We have the same power to help us in tough times. When we put our trust in God, stick to what we know is right and pray for direction from the Holy Spirit, we will see God working to help us in our time of need.
King Agrippa and his sister/wife came to pay their respects to Festus in Caesarea. Festus discussed Paul’s case with him, and laid it out to get his opinion. He pointed out that Paul had been left a prisoner by Felix and the Jews wanted to have him transferred to Jerusalem for trial. Paul was opposed, but still protected by the Roman civil courts, and no capitol charges were found against him. He told the king that the point of dispute was over a “dead man named Jesus” who Paul claimed was now alive. This was a problem for the church to handle as it concerned their theology on the resurrection. Festus said he had suggested that Paul go to Jerusalem to have the matter settled by the Sanhedrin, but Paul, using his Roman citizenship as his safety net, asked to go to Caesar. The authority of church and state were in question here, and Festus was limited in his ability to solve this dilemma.
Agrippa asked to hear from Paul himself, and the next day, with great pomp before all the military officers and prominent men of the city, Paul was brought before the king. Festus spoke to the crowd, saying that Paul had done nothing deserving of death, and was now on his way to Rome to appeal to Caesar. Festus was trying to compose a note to the Imperial Court, stating the reason for sending Paul, but was at a loss, because there were no provable charges against him. This was a difficult position for this local leader, and he did not want to insult the high court by sending them an innocent man. At the same time, he did not want to upset the religious Jews if Paul was set free. We all want to be accepted by those around us. When we take a strong stance that opposes the status quo, we could be mocked, rejected or even persecuted. Paul stood on his integrity, and he knew that there were many people leaving the Jewish traditional church in order to follow Jesus. He was not willing to be silenced to preserve his life. He continued to follow God’s mandates, and when suffering and hardship happened, he accepted it as part of what needed to happen to further the message of salvation in Christ. We must live differently than the rest of the world if anyone is to see Jesus in us. We cannot compromise our faith in order to be accepted by the world. There is too much at stake in these turbulent times, and if we are to take the good news to all the world, we need to be brave. Living a Christ-like life is not easy, but we are not alone! We have all the power of God on our side, and the Holy Spirit lives in us when we put our trust in Jesus. Our hope is not in status, success or acceptance by the world’s standards. Our hope is in eternal life through God’s grace in our salvation. Praise be to God, for all He was, is and is to come!